Those Spartans. Those magnificent, well-accessorized Spartans. Although the Athenians get more credit for “philosophy” and “art” and “culture” and stuff, it’s the Spartans who could teach us a thing or two about dressing for demanding conditions in a harsh climate. From their jaunty red capes (carefully tailored to provide maximum warming to the deltoids and trapeziuses while bearing abs so killer that a single view would send most foes fleeing for their very lives) to their excellent footwear, those Spartans knew how to accessorize and rock a killa uniform.
And how about those sandals! They provide maximum shin protection while exposing the heel to cooling upward drafts from the wells into which one must, from time to time, kick emissaries from enemy nations. What great dual action! Not to mention their undeniable wow factor. Clearly, the Spartans knew from sandals.
So why is it that the Romans have become so well-woven into the cobbler’s lexicon? And how is it that they get so much credit for their version of the Spartan shoe that we now refer to as soi-disant “gladiator sandals”?
Those Romans! They knew a thing or two about swiping other cultures’ excellent ideas and taking credit for them. Historical documents like 300 and Gladiator clearly reveal (as MoT‘s resident Shoeologist confirms from her painstaking graduate-level research) the way the Romans adopted the general idea of the Spartan sandal, enhanced its strappiness and added a bit o’ imperial beadazzling, and faster than you can say quod erat demonstrandum, a new kicks craze was born.
more gladiators: these from Cypress
Two millennia later we’ve yet to kick it. Tall and strappy (and we mean really tall and really strappy) sandals have come and gone through the years, but got a whole new lease on life when Chanel trotted out its resort collection back in 2007. Behold the über-gladiator sandal:
Chanel gladiator sandals, 2007
All of us here at MoT HQ were gaga about the whole get up; you can bet your big floppy sun hat that those of us who look like Chanel models and did our best to emulate it. (Especially on weekly bikini day.) Those of us who look more like we have a few children or graduate degrees (or both in equal numbers) stayed away from the tall sandals, not quite sure they were quite the thing for the office, the grocery store, the kids’ soccer field and so on. And even if we had, we would worry about getting funky tan lines on the three days of the summer we actually got to go outside to play. (And it was awfully hard to source those matching strappy glove things.) While foregoing the knee-high glads, we supported anyone who could pull off this look with a hearty brava.
But now we are faced with something new under the sun–or at least, a new version this old something. Instead of being under the sun, it ought to be kept locked behind closed doors. It appears that, having stretched the sandal to what to most eyes appeared to be its limit (reaching boot-like heights but still maintaining identity of a sandal), shoe designers have taken a regrettable turn by hybridizing the two kinds of footwear.
Such unions sometimes result in wonderful offspring: witness the marriage of Mary Jane and Stiletto performed by Manolo Blahnik.
a hybrid we can believe in (and that we dream of regularly): Manolo Blahnik’s Mary Jane
The mongrel rolling off the runways this season is a sad, ugly marriage. And it needs to stop. Philosophically, functionally and aesthetically, these sandal-plus-leg-warmer-ankle-shackle get ups are an absolute travesty of shoedom. This approach to shoe design is a crime, and Matters of Taste is here to save you from being a victim. Or a perpetrator. For your personal safety, read on.
Alexander McQueen ($779)
In this exemplary offering, the shin/ankle element has been reduced from its earlier (ca. 2007 Chanel) heights that recalled gladiators and warriors and made us all feel pretty Xena-esque. This short version can only be appropriate for people whose jobs involve a whip (at either end) or a pole, and we think that alluding to such is in the worst of taste.
Velvet Angels, “Queen” ($299)
The color! The fringe! How is it that they couldn’t have worked some sequins in to make this part of the uniform for people who work at establishments with a name like “Velvet Angels”?
Giuseppe Zanotti ($650)
Studded cuffs and virtually bare feet: anyone else having a really, really uncomfortable Roots flashback?
Another part of our complaint stems from simple confusion of function. Is this a warm-weather shoe, or a cold-weather shoe? It’s one thing to open a peep-toe in a pump, but in that case you still know what you’re wearing (a pump), what it goes with (almost anything) and where it can go (virtually anywhere). These hybrids are just confused; they have no name (perhaps that’s all for the better: the shoe world’s They-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named). Are they boots or sandals? Should we wear them in cold or hot? With wool skirts or cotton sundresses? We don’t know!
Michael Kors, “Angelo” ($295)
From Michael Kors: the breezy ease of a buckled sandal plus the luxurious warmth of a suede legwarmer: now who doesn’t want that at poolside? Or . . . in the ski lodge?
Dolce Vita, “Irene” ($153)
Designers of this breed of shoe also seem to really have it bad for bad hardware: confusion abounds. Are these really so difficult to get in and out of that we need multiple wacky fastening systems? And should sandals ever be associated with zippers? We think not.
Jessica Simpson, “Nikina” ($79)
Oh my gosh, these are even worse. They give the suggestion that, like a biker jacket, they can be zipped up or down depending on if we’re jumping on our bikes to make a getaway if we’re just ready to dive into a gang fight. If ever faced with that decision, we will be happy to have these shoes by Jessica Simpson (and really, who better to personify biker gang fight than Jessica Simpson?), although we worry that when we peel out on our choppers we may foul our pedicures with smushed bug guts. Ew!
Jessica Simpson, “Noho” ($110)
The lighter side of Jessica Simpson’s life as a biker chick.
DV by Dolce Vita, “Avila” ($101)
Buckles and laces and zippers, oh my! Wear the Tin Man shoes (see below) while you are trying to work up the heart to strap/zip/lace yourself into these beauties by DV.
And then there is the simple, but essential, matter of aesthetics. These must be the ugliest footwear. Ever. Neither pretty when empty nor flattering when filled with a foot. In fact, their design goes completely against the way that good shoes can enhance good features and mask the bad ones. We’ve already warned you about bearing your ugly feet to the world in our post about the dreaded flip-flop. These hybrid things are just as bad as those nasty plastic thongs in what they reveal, while at the same time making the wearer as thick as possible at the ankle, which is bulked up by all this cuffing nonsense. Really, try and imagine these examples doing anything better than a good pair of sandals OR boots might do for you:
Vicini, “Tapeet” ($354)
If you don’t have the time to knit your own shackles before going to Lilith Fair, just fork over $350 to Vicini. If they don’t canklify your legs quickly enough, try on these architecturally-inspired designs, which may be built from actual construction debris:
Rock & Republic, “Gwyneth” ($379)
We think this pair from Rock & Republic is for architects who can’t get enough of those vernacularish shed-roof houses with the woodsy clapboard that were so popular in the 1960s and ’70s.
Type Z, “Purra” ($93)
Type Z: More for architects, especially those who want their thick ankles wrapped in a Frank Gehry building!
Luichiny, “Rosey Posey” ($80)
Lui Chi: less Gehry, more Tin Man. Still no good.
Gabriella Rocha, “Cierra” ($89)
Gabriella Rocha: Wait. Gabriella Rocha? Gabriella Rocha of our perfect pointy-toe patent-leather ballet flats? et tu?
Bootie? Sandal? Sandal? Bootie? Make up your mind! People, we’re at war. Pick a side already, and the footwear that goes with it. Stop the madness, and trot your tootsies right on by these nameless freaks and strap some gorgeous kicks on your gam pegs instead.
By the way, those Manolos come in a dozen or more colors, including tortoise shell, black patent, pale pink and azalea pink. Have we presented enough evidence before the court?
no confusion here; Taste calls these shoes “perfection”
We thought so. Case dismissed.